How to find out if your phone has been hacked

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There is something wrong. Maybe your phone drains too quickly. Or one day it suddenly starts turning off and on by itself. Maybe it’s hot, so hot it’s hard to hold. Or again, you may notice outgoing calls that you never made or strange spikes in data usage. These could be signs that your smartphone has been hacked.

Many signs of a potential smartphone hacking can be mistaken for indicators of a technical problem. But they can actually be a symptom of a more serious problem, like malware installed on your smartphone. Malware can eat up system resources or conflict with other apps and the operating system, causing your phone to slow down or run erratically.

Yet, in a sense, this is good news. Because if it runs poorly on your phone and creates little big problems, malware can make its presence known. And with all the important information we carry in the palm of our hand nowadays, that’s twice as good news. Recognizing the signs, even small ones, can allow you to spot a problem that may be invisible.

Software breach and symptoms

Hackers can either physically smuggle the malware into your phone or trick you into installing it via a fake app , suspicious website, or phishing scam. In all cases, the software breach can create problems in a number of ways:

  • Keylogging: In the hands of a hacker, keylogging is like a stalker: it surreptitiously collects information as you type, tap the screen, and even talk on the phone.
  • Trojans: Trojans are malware that can be stealthily installed on your phone to steal important data, such as your credit card account number or personal information.

Some possible signs of a software breach on your phone include:

Performance issues

You may have noticed some of the signs we mentioned earlier. Is your device running slower, web pages and apps having trouble loading, or the battery just can’t seem to hold a charge? These are all signs that malware might be running in the background and hogging up your phone’s resources.

The phone is very hot

Like the performance issues mentioned above, malware or mining apps running in the background can eat up computing power (and data). In addition to degrading performance, malware and mining apps can heat up and even overheat your phone.

Mysterious apps or data

If you notice apps you haven’t downloaded, calls you haven’t made, or texts and emails you haven’t sent, this is a red flag. A hacker may have taken over your phone to make premium rate calls or text messages, or to spread malware to your contacts. Similarly, spikes in data usage could also be a sign of a breach.

Pop-ups or home screen changes

Malware can also be the cause of unwanted pop-ups, home screen changes, or bookmarks to suspicious websites. Configuration changes that you didn’t make are another strong indication that your smartphone has been hacked.

What to do if you think your phone has been hacked…

  • Install and run security software on your smartphone if you haven’t already. Run it and delete all the apps you didn’t download and risky SMS and then run it again.
  • If you still have problems, you can erase everything on your phone and reset it. If you have a backup of your photos, contacts, and other important information in the cloud, it’s a relatively simple process. With a quick search online you can find out how to erase and reset your phone model.
  • Finally, check your bank accounts and credit history to see if any unauthorized purchases have been made. If so, you can freeze the affected accounts and get new cards and credentials. Also replace your account passwords with strong and unique passwords.

Ten tips to prevent your phone from being hacked

A hacker can gain access to your phone and steal personal and important information in many ways. Here are some tips to prevent this from happening:

  1. Install online security software on your phone . Over the years we have made a good habit of using it on our computers and laptops. And on our phones? Not so much. Installing online protection on your smartphone gives you a first line of defense against attacks and many of the additional security features listed below.
  2. Update your phone and its apps. In addition to installing security software, updating regularly is a good way to keep you and your phone safe. Updates can fix vulnerabilities that cybercriminals rely on to carry out their malware-based attacks. Also, these updates can help keep your phone and apps running smoothly, and add new and useful features.
  3. Boost your security wherever you are. One way scammers can get into your phone is through public Wi-Fi networks available at airports, hotels, and even libraries. These networks are public, which means your activities are exposed to others on the network: banking, passwords, pretty much everything. One way to make a public network private is to use a VPN that can protect you and everything you do while connected from that Wi-Fi hotspot from others.
  4. Use a password manager. Strong and unique passwords are an additional line of defense. However, it is true that with all the accounts we have, managing dozens of passwords can be complicated, and for this reason we are tempted to use (and reuse) simple passwords. Hackers take advantage of this because one password can be the key to accessing different accounts. Instead, try using a password manager that automatically generates passwords and stores them securely. Comprehensive security software like McAfee Total Protection includes one.
  5. Avoid public charging stations. Charging your phone in a public location seems simple and safe. Some hackers, however, install malware just when the device is in the charging station. As your phone charges, they steal your passwords and personal information. So what should you do to recharge your phone away from home? You can use a power bank that you can pre-charge or that runs on AA batteries. They are quite cheap and easy to find.
  6. Keep an eye on the phone. Preventing phone theft is also important: some breaches happen simply because the phone falls into the wrong hands. This is a good reason to protect your phone with a password or PIN code, as well as to activate tracking so that you can locate your phone or wipe its data remotely if the need arises. Apple provides iOS users with step-by-step instructions for wiping devices remotely, and Google offers guidance for Android users .
  7. Encrypt your phone. By encrypting your phone you can avoid hacking and protect your calls, messages and confidential information. To check if your iPhone is encrypted, go to Touch ID & Passcode, scroll to the bottom and check if data protection is turned on (it’s usually turned on automatically when you turn on the passcode). Android users have automatic encryption that varies depending on the type of phone.
  8. Lock the SIM card. Just as you can block your phone, you can also block your SIM card, which is used to identify you and to connect to the cellular network. By blocking it, your phone cannot be used on a network other than yours. If you have an iPhone, you can block it by following these simple steps . For other platforms, check the manufacturer’s website.
  9. Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them. It’s like closing an open door. Devices with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on and discoverable are vulnerable to attacks from dedicated and well-equipped hackers. Similarly, even if it’s not a violation, so turning it off can protect your privacy in some situations. You can easily disable both from settings, and on many phones you can also do this from a drop-down menu on the home screen.
  10. Stay away from third-party app stores. Google Play and Apple’s App Store review and control apps to help ensure they are safe. Third party sites may not perform these checks. Indeed, some of them intentionally host malicious apps that are used for scamming purposes. Sure, cybercriminals have found ways to bypass Google and Apple’s verification process, but the ability to download a secure app from their stores is significantly higher than from any other app store. Additionally, both Google and Apple quickly remove malicious apps upon discovery, making their stores much more secure.